No president, no problem.
Hasan Minhaj took the stage Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and delivered a set typical of the annual event, even though the event itself was anything but ordinary. The “Daily Show” special correspondent delivered an eviscerating 25-minute set, going after the usual targets, from the reporters in the room to the president and his staff, despite Donald Trump’s absence.
“I would say it’s an honor to be here, but that is an alternative fact,” Minhaj said. “No one one wanted to do this, so, of course, it landed in the hands of an immigrant — like it always does.”
Minhaj opened by welcoming the crowd to “the series finale of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” and noted how it’s the ninth year in a row a Muslim-American has stood behind the podium — eight years with President Barack Obama, and now Minhaj, keeping the streak alive.
“We have to address the elephant that is not in the room,” Minhaj said, early on in his speech. “Our president is not here.”
Minhaj said he was “explicitly told not to go after the administration.” But he did anyway, early and often in his time on stage.
Referencing the suspicious connections between Donald Trump and Russia, Minhaj first brought up President Putin’s absence before commenting again on Trump’s choice to hold a rally in Pennsylvania instead of attending the annual dinner.
“As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke,” Minhaj said.
A few other excellent one-liners included:
- “He tweets at 3 a.m. sober. Who tweets at 3 a.m. sober? Donald Trump because it’s 10 a.m. in Moscow, and those are business hours.”
- “Mike Pence wanted to be here, but his wife wouldn’t let him because apparently one of you ladies is ovulating.”
- “Jeff Sessions is busy doing a pre-Civil War reenactment,” Minhaj said. “On his RSVP, he wrote “no.” Just “nooooo,” which happens to be his second favorite n-word.”
But Minhaj didn’t let those in the room off the hook either, noting how we’re living in a time when “trust is more important than truth, and I just think a lot of people don’t trust you right now.”
USA Today, CNN (including anchor Wolf Blitzer), and MSNBC (including Brian Williams) all faced Minhaj’s roasting, as did (of course) Fox News.
“It’s hard to trust you guys when you backed a guy like Bill O’Reilly for years,” Minhaj said. “Then you gave him a $25 million severance package, which turned out to be the only package O’Reilly won’t force women to touch.”
Minhaj gracefully exited the stage at approximately 10:55 p.m. local time, pausing briefly to backtrack and fit in a few more jokes before thanking everyone for attending and bringing him on as host. Watch the speech in full below.
The night began with a video featuring former presidential press secretaries and White House historians discussing the importance of journalism, especially as it pertains to covering a sitting president. Archival footage chronicles the tumultuous relationship between the press and the presidency, including how Richard Nixon vowed every year to never go back to the Correspondents’ Dinner, but every year, he returned.
Such pointed but indirect references to Trump’s absence continued when Reuters reporter Jeff Mason took the podium for the opening remarks. Mason said the dinner showed how politicians and the press could set aside their differences for one night and come together, after which he took a long pause to let it sink in that 2017 was notably different.
“But we are here to celebrate the press, not the presidency,” Mason said. “And I’m happy to report, to anyone that’s interested, that this dinner is sold out.”
Mason also declared the room is not “fake news,” and that the press is “not the enemy of the American people.” He then applauded the group for its resilient coverage of Trump’s first 100 days in office.
“We are still in the White House briefing room, and we are still in Air Force One” he said.
Before Minhaj took the stage, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein gave speeches to the crowd, and Alec Baldwin gave a quick message of support, in character on “SNL” as Donald Trump. It was as close as the evening got to a Trump sighting.